RAPE: A Crime of SEXUAL Passion or an Expression of Hatred and Violence?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rape has for so long been depicted in art, literature and the media as an exciting and even glamorous act, that the concept of it causing pain, distress, shame and humiliation for the victim becomes hard to accept. There is a common misconception that rape is 'simply' a crime of sexual passion, motivated by uncontrolled sexual urges"on the part of the rapist and representing no more than a somewhat unpleasant encounter for the woman or girl involved- that is, if she does not find herself branded a willing collaborator.

There is a greater tendency to blame a rape victim than victims of other forms of crime. I have often heard people argue that 'rape' is on the rise in this country because 'women and girls are fast becoming immoral', that 'girls and women scantily dress while exposing their nakedness', 'girls and ladies wear skirts that are short and tempting', 'girls and women are always seen outside of their homes at ungodly hours of the night'. Others try to impeach the character of the victims, making statements like 'she was a woman or girl of known bad character'. All too often statements like these are used to diminish the woman's or girl's belief that nothing untoward happens to you unless you do something to deserve it and that rape is always invited or welcomed by the victim.

Virtually every common stereotype existing about rape and its victims has been discredited by research, and yet they persist. The stereotype of a knife-wielding stranger, attacking a young, innocent virgin, in a dark street corner at night time rarely applies. The majority of rapes take place indoors, and are committed by someone known to the victim. Most girls and women who are attacked find themselves unable to defend themselves in any way. This does not make them willing accomplices, as many find themselves labeled.

The view that it is impossible to rape a woman (to have carnal knowledge of her) against her will or wishes is patently untrue when one considers the implication of the word 'consent'. According to Ray and Fay 'consent' is active not passive, and is only possible when there is equal power. Forcing a woman or girl to give in, even if there is no physical resistance from her, cannot be regarded as consent. Similarly, if the woman or girl cannot say "no" comfortably then her "yes" cannot have any meaning and if the rapist is unwilling to accept a "no" then the "yes" of the girl or woman cannot have meaning.

In fact, consent becomes totally irrelevant when the element of fear is introduced into the situation, destroying the woman's or girl's ability to think rationally or to act effectively. Fear of being killed or mutilated reduces most victims to a state of complete helplessness and submission. Because the 'mad sex fiend image' has taken such a firm hold in most people's concept of a rapist, the further a particular attacker is from that image, the more difficult his victim will find it to grasp the fact that she has been raped. This is particularly true when the rapist is an acquaintance or a friend. 'Surely someone I trusted couldn't have done that to me'.

In these cases, the victim will often feel that she was partially or totally to blame for the incident, through her misplaced trust and lack of judgment. The rape victim's reluctance to disclose what has happened to her friends, to her family or to the police probably results in large part from this tendency to blame herself. If a woman feels confused about her guilt and responsibility in the attack, then she will clearly be reluctant to expose herself to the criticism and harsh judgment of others as is always the case.

It is important to know that there is no 'typical' rapist, nor is there is a 'typical' rape victim. Although most women who are raped are young adults; young children, pregnant mothers and elderly women may also be raped. Research that looked into the backgrounds and characteristics of sex offenders have fond that the majority of incarcerated sex offenders have wives or sexual partners. In the same vein and contrary to the common myth, men who rape do not generally have abnormal sex hormones or excessive sexual libido. Many of them have background characterized by violence to others, and having been victimised themselves.

Rape is an expression of hatred and violence. A woman or girl is probably as likely to be raped as she is to fall victims of any other sort of violent crime, regardless of her attractiveness, social status or background, tribe, religion or sexual availability. The reality of rape for both victim and offender is of a brutal and terrorizing act which has little or nothing to do with what is usually associated with trust, love, emotional warmth and mutual regard.

Rape is an absolute and total violation, not just of the woman's or girl's psychological boundaries, but her actual most intimate physical boundaries. Unlike in a housebreaking, where the goal is access to the woman's or girl's possessions, in rape, it is the woman or girl herself who is defiled and, unlike in housebreaking, the defiled goods cannot simply be discarded and forgotten. The raped woman or girl will almost always describe her attack in terms of believing she is about to be killed, and the complete helplessness and hopelessness this engenders in her. When a woman or girl is raped, her sense of self and world shifts. She sees herself as 'bad', 'dirty', 'unwanted' and broken. A victim of rape often describes the assault as an animalistic act, in which she finds herself treated as, and therefore believes herself to be, of no more value than an insignificant object of sex, used and discarded with impunity. She views or sees people important to her as untrustworthy, unreliable, dishonest and incapable of protecting vulnerable ones. The abuse-related internalizations form part of her internal working model, the base from which behaviour develops and the filter through which future events are experienced.

The reliving of the rape in the courts and the barrage of questions from the defense team make the blood of victims shudder. A girl or woman with the knowledge of the traumatic nature of a rape trial will not report when she is raped. When the victim of sexual offence takes the witness stand, she, unlike victims of other crimes, is on trial. She is forced to recount the rape incident, in vivid and graphic terms, without regards to secondary trauma she suffers. In court and in the dock, her character is questioned and impeached and her morality is doubted. Her words are considered 'inherently suspect'. The Police have to corroborate the woman or girl's evidence with other material evidence and in the absence of the latter conviction is difficult or the charge is reduced to 'indecent assault'. Is it that the law thinks it is very dangerous to convict on the evidence of the woman or girl alone? Is it that human and legal experience have shown that girls and women do not tell the truth? Woe betide the rape victim who has no evidence other than the words of another woman or girl. The victim's youth and femininity often militates against her. On the one hand her youth serves as mitigation for her assailant, as a child witness, her evidence must be corroborated and as a woman witness giving evidence against a man in a sex offence, she is tainted with the brush of Eve as the eternal seductress or temptress. In the dock a rape victim is often seen as a 'femme fatale' and therefore dangerous to be believed.

To seriously combat rape in our society, we need to see and understand this heinous crime less as the behaviour of deviant offenders and more as an extreme extension of the dynamics of gender and sexuality, male-female relationships, family systems and community tolerance for violence. We must begin to see rape less as an aberration and more as an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. We must interrogate and lay bare the falsity and emptiness of thoughts and arguments, held by defenders of perpetrators of rape and other sexual abuse, that the girl's or woman's morality is more important than the crime committed against her. Above all, we must all have the courage of our conviction to condemn and denounce perpetrators and identify more with the victim. Sexual violence against a woman or girl anywhere, is a threat to development and justice everywhere. Dante has warned us that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. Men and women of good will certainly side with the victim.